‘Baby dragon’ hatches out in Slovenia cave
An extremely rare form of cave-dwelling salamander has emerged from its egg in Slovenia's Postojna cave.
A female olm, a Gollum-like, lizard-sized amphibian residing in an aquarium in the country’s largest cave, has laid eggs, according to scientists in the Central European country. It is the first instance of observed out-of-lab reproduction of the species, according to the researchers.
The eyeless pink animal, also known as the “baby dragon” and “human fish” because of its skin-like color, can live a century and breeds just once per decade, mainly in laboratories across Europe or deep in caverns away from humans.
A female olm, sometimes called a “baby dragon,” pictured with one of its eggs at the Postojna Cave in Slovenia.
Slovenian biologists are overjoyed at the prospect of seeing newborn olms born in Postojna Cave. The eggs will hatch in roughly 100 days, or sometime in June.
“This is something truly extraordinary,” said biologist Saso Weldt, who works at the cave in northwestern Slovenia.
An olm, a foot-long cave-dwelling amphibian, in the Postojna Cave in Slovenia. Credit…Dragan Arrigler
The olm was already in the cave’s large aquarium when the eggs were discovered on Jan. 30 by a tour guide who observed a small white dot adhering to the fish tank’s wall. A pregnant olm stood guard nearby, snapping at any intruder who got too close.
The female olm and her eggs. Postojna Cave
A closeup of one of the olm eggs. Postojna Cave
Olms do not have functioning eyes and are sightless amphibians. Postojna Cave
Olms have three toes on their front legs and two toes on their rear legs. Postojna Cave
Crowds have been gathering in droves to observe the rare occurrence of the female olm and her eggs. Postojna Cave
Scientists removed the aquarium’s other inhabitants, leaving the mother alone with the eggs.
The olm deposited over 60 eggs in the weeks that followed, three of which appear to be developing. According to biologists, this is a decent number because olm eggs have a terrible track record of surviving the 120 days required for them to mature and hatch.
A Postojna olm lay eggs two years ago, but they were eaten by other cave dwellers. So, this time, experts secluded the female and her eggs in a dark location, added more oxygen, and excluded all outside stimuli.
A record number of visitors were allowed nowhere near the mother and her eggs in February – tourists could only watch a live video screening via special infrared cameras put near the aquarium.
Slovenians, some of whom are contemplating declaring the olm the next “Slovenian of the Year,” have been keeping their fingers crossed.
“We did all that is in our power,” biologist Weldt said. “Now we wait.”